Skrillex – Quest For Fire
Raising as many questions as he has hits, American producer Skrillex has become one of the most contentious figures in electronic music. Many feel that Skrillex should still be held accountable for the sins of his past. Afterall, unleashing the bastardised Frankenstein monster of dubstep and happy hardcore now known as ‘brostep’ upon the world is no small travesty to forgive. It appears that if anyone knows this, it’s Skrillex himself. His post-Bangarang (wb wub) days are a fascinating case study in rebranding. The Skrillex moniker had arguably grown bigger than the man behind it, and his response was to take a necessary step back. After the release of his debut LP Recess in 2014, Skrillex looked toward collaboration and pop production as a reprieve from his then tarnishing reputation. What followed was a stylistic transformation, with the producer moving further away from the screeching synths and bass wobbles that had become his signature toward exploring the smother but still futurist sounds of wonky, future bass, and glitch.
His second album, Quest For Fire, arrives with a bevy of collaborators that suggest Skrillex is distancing himself from the mainstream opinion of his music more than ever before. As its title might suggest, he’s still in search of floor shattering dance music. Surrounding himself with the likes of Four Tet and underground it-kids like Siiickbrain and Dylan Brady, Quest For Fire represents a new chapter for the producer. Stylistically, Quest For Fire is a bass album with influences from hip-hop, grime, and the very trendy rhythms of Jersey club. Lead single Rumble is perhaps most indicative of this new direction, with sticky, abysmal bass and verses from grime MC Flowdan. Fred Again.., current darling of UK house, joins Skrillex here, offering touches of his emotive atmospherics to the track’s centre. Flowdan appears again on the grime track HYDRATE, which pulls bass patterns from actual dubstep. On the erratic RATATA, Skrillex enlists a perfect guest artist in Missy Elliot, who offers her flow to a track inspired by the sort of futuristic bounce hip-hop that she’s synonymous with. It’s a total bop, but at just over two minutes, it’s far too short lived to feel satisfying.
The most fascinating aspect of Quest For Fire is how dextrous Skrillex comes off here. For an artist who has built their career on a sound so singular and unmistakable, it’s intriguing to see Skrillex play into the styles of his collaborators. On Butterflies, it sounds as if he hands most of the reigns to Four Tet, adding buoyant bass to Four Tet’s precise and sharp house beats. Then on Tears, he assimilates to UK producer Joker’s ‘purple sound’ dubstep; less manic, more menacing with its pensive trap tempo. Quest For Fire is not without moments that are unmistakably Skrillex, though. XENA, which features Arabic guest vocals from Palestinian singer Nai Barghouti, has a breakdown that errs on the side of brostep, with screeching bass and a chopped rhythm accented by hyperactive moments of percussion. The skittish juke of Too Bizarre indulges Skrillex’s love and penchant for abrupt and sudden moments of chaos and dissonance, while those familiar chainsaw synths return on Supersonic. Here though, the sound of 2010 frat parties is repurposed from obnoxious to seductive, alongside the voice of Dylan Brady and guidance of Noisia. Skrillex’s only solo outing on Quest For Fire is probably the track that says the most about the space he finds himself in right now. Hazel Theme is the album’s only moment of solace, a gentle ballad that plays between the boundaries of glitch and ambient, concluding with a gentle piano aria and the muffled sound of birdsong. It surges right into the garage of Still Here (with the ones I came with), and the transition from near silence into the euphoric, introspective glow of Still Here is one of Quest For Fire’s most thrilling moments.
What’s immediately clear from Quest For Fire is that this is Skrillex’s attempt at redemption. And perhaps he’s earned it. He seemed to find his groove with projects like Jack Ü with Diplo, learning to hone in on his instinct for disruption, filtering his chaos through the lens of future bass and bounce where that sort of aggressive syncopation is better translated. There’s no denying that Skrillex is an incredibly talented producer, and this album serves to remind us of that fact by showcasing his range and newfound restraint. For better or for worse, Skrillex will always be an essential chapter in the history of electronic music. This is the start of him reshaping that legacy.
Watch Skrillex play music from Quest For Fire below